A Critical Analysis of Israel's Security and Foreign Policy
by Zeev Maoz
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. 714 pp. $45
Reviewed by Efraim Inbar
Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2009, pp. 82-83
Maoz, professor of political science and director of the International Relations Program at the University of California-Davis, has written a long, well-organized, and detailed book. But those attributes are not enough to distract from the author's often unhinged animosity to Israel. For Maoz, practically everything the Jewish state has done in the area of defense and foreign policy over the last sixty years was wrong. His last chapters are devoted to explaining the failures, ending with some policy prescriptions. For anyone who enjoys sophisticated Israel-bashing and has the patience to read more than 600 pages, Maoz has provided the book.
His narrative of unrelenting criticism erodes the credibility of his arguments. The author implausibly tries to show that Israel's "military adventurism" was much to blame for the 1967 war and argues that Israel played "more than a small part" in the outbreak of the War of Attrition (1967-70) although Cairo clearly initiated that combat.
The author's account of the Arab-Israeli conflict reflects a total misunderstanding of the central role played by Israel's use of force in compelling the Arabs to come to grips with Israel's permanence. Military victories in 1956 and 1967 are curiously and myopically seen as exacerbating Israel's relations with its neighbors, rather than as important events in Egypt's gradual realization that Israel could not be destroyed—a process that culminated in the 1979 peace treaty. Similarly, the author fails to see that the military victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, despite the strategic surprise on two fronts, was another significant step in the Arab recognition of Israel as an entrenched fact.
The most astonishing critique is directed at Israel's nuclear policy, despite its obvious success. Maoz advocates Israel's renouncing nuclear weapons and joining a regional security regime. Greater naiveté can hardly be imagined.
Maoz repeatedly belittles the dangers posed by the Arab states and portrays Israel's perception of those dangers as unwarranted. Indeed, Maoz views Israel's defensive military operations as trigger-happy, ignoring that the Middle East is conflict-ridden and war-prone, and that Israel's neighbors often resort to the use of force. The author generally dismisses Israel's right to attack states and organizations that refuse to live in peace with it. One can doubt the wisdom of the 1982 Lebanon war, but it included defensive aims. But the author ignores the threat of terrorist and Katyusha attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization .
The oft-repeated accusations of Israel's "disproportionate use of force" or "excessive force" blissfully ignore the fact that states in war have no obligation to limit military responses to the level pursued by their enemies but, instead, have the duty to use force to defeat their opponents. Escalation often attains military and political goals.
The learned author turns a blind eye to Arab reluctance to accept Israel. He displays a misguided preference for diplomacy in an area where the best political currency is brute force. It is the Pavlovian instinctive reaction of liberals to suggest engagement and peace talks, insisting that the Arabs are ripe for peacemaking with the Jewish state when even today, thirty years after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the State of Israel still does not appear on maps printed in Egypt.
Maoz accuses Israel of rejecting numerous peace deals, assuming that acquiescing to Arab demands would end hostilities. His approach includes several problematic assumptions. The first is that such demands have been issued with the honest goal of ending the conflict. The second is that the end of hostilities—should it even be in the offing—is worth any price. For example, the rejection of giving up half of the Lake of Galilee to an unstable Syrian dictatorship is hardly justifiable. According to Maoz, it was a missed opportunity. Alternatively, the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in particular probably precludes the possibility of satisfying the Palestinians today. Why not accuse the Palestinians of an exaggerated territorial appetite? In their history, they have never controlled Jerusalem. Moreover, the Temple Mount is the holiest place to the Jews, and the Jews have constituted a majority of the city population during the past 200 years.
Moreover, Maoz disregards international history and practice. Inexplicably, he rejects that the outcome of a territorial dispute with the Syrians reflects the power relations between the two countries. Many of the borders in the world are the results of the power differential between neighbors. This is why Syria finally accepted the annexation of the Alexandretta region by Turkey, and this is precisely why the border between Israel and Syria has been quiet for the past thirty-four years. For all purposes, termination of hostilities—the test of peace for Maoz—was passed successfully on the current Israeli-Syrian border. In addition, he naively assumes that an ethnic conflict such as the Israeli-Palestinian one will end after a deal has been signed.
An epithet sprinkled throughout the book is Israel's "militarism." How can Israel be accused of militarism and exaggerated influence of the military when the most important decisions in the area of national security in the past fifteen years—Oslo (1993), Lebanon (2000), Gaza (2005)—were taken either without consulting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or against their advice?
Finally, Maoz's historical account is sometimes inaccurate. What he calls "provoked infringements into the DMZs [demilitarized zones]" on the Israeli-Syrian border were actually attempts by Israelis to till the land that was under their sovereignty. He terms the IDF aggressive when Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin stopped the diversion of the Jordan waters in 1965-66 with a very limited use of firepower. He calls the use of sticks against demonstrators in the first intifada "brute force," not taking into account Rabin's reluctance to use live ammunition, which could have increased Palestinian casualties. As Rabin wryly remarked at the time, "Nobody dies of a beating." Moreover, Rabin restricted the use of live ammunition despite this increasing the risk to Israeli soldiers. After all, stones used by Palestinians occasionally killed Israelis. In contrast to the claims by the author, the offensive measures in the second intifada, such as preventative detention and targeted killing, scorned by Maoz, were vital to lowering the damage inflicted by Palestinian terrorists. The author simply refuses to take a look at the facts that prove him wrong.
Defending the Holy Land symbolizes a much larger problem and reveals the perversity of knowledgeable academics who adopt the wrong conceptual lens, disregarding basic common sense.
Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.